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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


H. Mit

Shooting Bishops


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Russian Oppression in the Ukraine
Ukrainian Publishers Ltd, 36s.

The title of this book is rather misleading as the centuries of oppression under Tsarist rule are condensed into five pages, the remaining 540 relating to Soviet Russia.

It is not without significance that in the many accounts of Soviet suppression of peasant movements no mention is made of Nestor Makhno. Makhno was a theoretical anarchist who, in 1919, for a short time fought with the Red Army against the Whites; his anarchist convictions however were in direct contrast to Trotsky’s conception of a centralised disciplined army, and after the inevitable split in July 1919 he moved his detachments into the Red’s rear and engaged in many skirmishes around Elizavetgrad. In 1920 Wrangel’s advance forced Makhno to take sides once more, and his forces played no small part in Wrangel’s final defeat. A further split followed and Makhno’s detachments were finally dispersed by Budienny’s cavalry. He was not, of course, a Ukrainian nationalist, his movement was peculiar in that no pogroms were associated with it and his alliance with the Red Army against the White barons seems to preclude his receiving a mention in this book despite the manner of his forces’ demise. There are several other glaring omissions: Lenin’s name is usually (unconvincingly) attached to national oppressions, but Trotsky’s never – but, of course, Trotsky was born in the Ukraine, so his name cannot be mentioned; nor is mention made of oppositions with the Party although Rakovsky, who played an active part in this resistance, was head of the Ukrainian Soviet Government.

A section on the persecution of the Church begins with the comment that the communist aim is ‘to overthrow tradition and civilisation which are based on unchangeable ethical principles that are binding for man’s conscience.’ Such remarks are legion, but the article does contain examples of the violent nature of Stalin’s ‘atheistic propaganda.’ Few readers will not see the need to combat religion, but the physical extermination of bishops and the conversion of churches to granaries is not the way to do it. Eulogistic biographies are given of the nationalist leaders Petlura, Konovalets and Bandera. Much is made of a few anti-pogrom proclamations by Petlura which in fact were never enforced – in July 1919 alone, for instance, Kiev registered 27 pogroms, Volhynia 12 and Podolia 14. Konovalets was the founder of the terrorist Ukrainian Military Organisation (UVO) in 1920, the activities of which seem to be magnified somewhat, and which merged in 1929 along with other nationalist organisations in the OUN, the leadership of which Bandera assumed in 1941 shortly after Konovalets’ death. All three are claimed to have been assassinated by Soviet agents, which in the case of the latter two is credible but seems unfounded in Petlura’s case.

Much useful information is available in the book: the sanguinary paths of Kruschev and Postyshev (subsequently liquidated then rehabilitated by his former colleagues as an ‘honest and innocent Communist’); the accounts of the strikes and insurrections in the concentration camps from the late 1940s, whilst no doubt over-stating the Ukrainians’ role, are poignant testimony to the tenacity of man in the face of inhuman persecution and degradation; the methods and results of forced collectivisation are competently dealt with and the familiar persecution of intellectuals and constriction of artistic expression are adequately covered.

Despite the many omissions, exaggerations and distortions this book is a useful addition to the documentation of ‘Soviet’ Russia’s exploitation and oppression of its satellites.

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